You know you’re in for a ride when the opening paragraph of a novel is fully dedicated to describing genitalia, and O’Connell’s candid and darkly funny narrative definitely holds up in this story of navigating life, love, alcohol addiction, and Hollywood as a gay man with cerebral palsy. Elliott has a doting long-term boyfriend and a staff writing job that gives him money to burn, but when the dalliance with a sex worker leads to a full-blown preoccupation, he realizes he’s clearly not happy with the status quo. Between facing constant ableism, a toxic boss, and his secret, cash-paid sex life, Elliott is being held together by glue, tape, and too much wine, and he knows it. But how does one go about reclaiming life in a world that makes it clear yours is worth less? —Dahlia Adler
Shake last year’s sand out of your summer shoes, because we’ve got some titles you’ll want to dive into. This month, both #ReadwithMC and Read with Jenna have chosen These Impossible Things by Salma El-Wardany as their book club pick of the month. Joining this month’s line up of sizzling reads are two titles by Akwaeke Emezi and Oprah’s latest book club pick, which was written by (no kidding) a teenager. No matter your summer plans, with us you’ll always be Fully Booked.
To submit titles for inclusion in this roundup, email us.
Recommended for: Those going through a midlife crisis (or quarter-life crisis, or a life crisis in general) and thinking of moving to another country to start a whole new life.
Our reviewer says: “A woman grapples with love and the emotional turmoil that comes with it in the long-winded latest from Cross-Smith.” Read more here.
The book: PowerNomics: The National Plan to Empower Black America by Claud Anderson (PowerNomics Corp.)
Recommended for: Those who are curious about the progress of the Black community in a racist country and how to maximize the growth that has already been accomplished.
Recommended for: Those who saw the movie and want to read the original source material, and if you’re one of those people who says “trust in the universe” a lot.
Our reviewer says: “Is it fate or chance that brings people together? This is the question posed in this impressively multilayered tale of a one-day romance featuring practical Natasha, whose family is facing deportation to Jamaica, and Daniel, a first-generation Korean American with a poet’s sensibility.” Read more here.
Recommended for: Those who get hyped when the song Stacy’s Mom plays, anyone who has lost a loved one and is hesitant about moving on, and people who are invested in the classic daytime soap opera trope of “she’s dating the son and his father?!”
Our reviewer says: “Bestseller Emezi unpacks the ever-present weight of grief in this deeply emotional love story.” Read more here.
Recommended for: Those who are convinced that they could be the one to solve an age-old mystery (looking at all you true crime aficionados and Only Murders in the Building fans).
Our reviewer says: “In Gutierrez’s engrossing debut, Cassie Bowman, a true crime aficionado living in Austin, comes across a decades-old story about an international banker, Dolores “Lore” Rivera, who was married to two husbands, Fabian Rivera and Andres Russo, the former in Texas and the latter in Mexico.” Read more here.
The book: Circa by Devi S. Laskar (Mariner)
Recommended for: Those who feel like no matter what they do, the universe seems to have it out for them—and maybe it does, but why depend on the universe when you can depend on yourself?
Our reviewer says: “Laskar delivers a poignant coming-of-age story of a Bengali American young woman and the death of her best friend.” Read more here.
Recommended for: When you find yourself thinking about all those failed past relationships and wistfully wishing that it had somehow worked out with that one particular person.
Our reviewer says: “In this thoughtful and fascinating debut from Feltman, two students in Columbia’s MFA program in 2016 spiral into a romance—and just as quickly spiral out.” Read more here.
The book: Lot Six David Adjmi (HarperCollins)
Recommended for: Whoever has felt like they don’t know who they are or how they fit into the world, so trying on different personas and characters depending on the situation has become both a way of survival and a lifestyle.
Our reviewer says: “A gay playwright struggles with his claustrophobic Jewish community as he attempts to define himself in this raucous if flawed memoir.” Read more here.
Recommended for: Muslim women who have found themselves dating (or wanting to date) outside their faith and are searching for a like-minded support system despite family and cultural objections.
Our reviewer says: “El-Wardany’s entertaining debut follows the romantic relationships of three Muslim women living in London in the early 2010s.” Read more here.
The book: Concrete Cowboy by G. Neri (Candlewick)
Recommended for: Whoever wanted to be part of the wild, wild west growing up, but didn’t actually live in the west (some might even call you a city kid, but that’s up for interpretation).
Recommended for: When you want an emotional story and a good cry featuring a Nigerian family and the child they never really knew.
Our reviewer says: “Emezi returns to adult fiction with a brisk tale that whirs around the mysterious death of a young Nigerian man, Vivek Oji.” Read more here.
The book: Nightcrawling by Leila Motley
Recommended for: Reassuring yourself that the kids are, in face, alright, by reading a brilliant book by a teen.
Our reviewer says: “This heartrending story makes for a powerful testament to a Black woman’s resilience.” Read more here.
Recommended for: Fashion savvy readers who find themselves scrolling through Instagram for #OOTD inspiration and self-proclaimed experts who can spot a fake designer form a mile away.
Our reviewer says: “Chen spins a clever tale offering two sides of a story involving a complicated friendship and knockoff handbags.” Read more here.
Recommended for: Fans of the singer Janelle Monáe, and those who could spend an entire party discussing the nuances of a future society run by technology.
Our reviewer says: “In this moving, triumphant collection, singer Monáe returns to the dystopian world of her Dirty Computer concept album and short film.” Read more here.
This brilliant historical fantasy takes place in an alternative Victorian-era Oxford. Silver bars can be activated through translation to do magical tasks, from the mundane (heating tea) to the essential (holding up a bridge). Because of the nature of silversmithing, people who can speak multiple languages are crucial, especially less common languages in England. To that end, a professor from Babel — Oxford’s translation tower and the world center of silver working — essentially steals Chinese children with promising language skills and whisks them away to England. Robin Swift, the protagonist, is one such child. He spends his childhood learning languages, and if he tarries he faces the professor’s wrath. When he arrives at Oxford to begin classes, he befriends other outsiders like him: charismatic Rami, who’s originally from India and quickly becomes Robin’s best friend, brilliant and principled Victoire, who’s originally from Haiti, and stubborn Letty, a white woman born to wealth but who refuses to be married off by her father. These four become everything to one another, but they cannot escape Babel’s fractious, colonialist politics. Kuang deftly explores the period and its legacy of racism and colonialism while also fully committing to Robin’s character arc. It’s an impressive, emotional read. —Margaret Kingsbury
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Be more like Nero. Not reality’s dull politician, but his enemies’ fiddle-playing caricature. He embodied joyful sanity in the midst of the opposite. The grinning avatar of comedy.
I named my book’s most determined survivor after him because I think humor keeps us alive. You seem decent, so I’d like to suggest a few books with a sense of humor about life’s worst tricks. Some of the strife’s external, like that war in the 1940’s. Others focus on internal problems, like the gnawing need for success we teach children that smile too often. Most multi-task. Either way, they’re valuable for surviving late Americana.
I suspect you could use the laugh. America’s approaching imperial decline with the same verve as expansion, ethnic cleansing, and synthetic sugar. Maybe more. While manifest destiny relied on human competence and depravity, the well-meaning incompetence behind decline is as endless as the sky. Leaving observers a choice between ignorance, madness, and entertainment.
I suggest having fun with it. You can’t control decline, unless you’re reading this from the Illuminati break room or Joe Manchin’s desk. But you can control your experience. Laughing in absurdity’s face is a skill, and I have twelve textbooks for you. Consider this reading list a first-aid kit for your smile.
Embrace maniacal laughter. While gallows humor won’t save the future, it might save you.
Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72
(Simon & Schuster)
If you listen closely to the wailing and gnashing of teeth, you’ll hear a lot of “Why?” and “How?” and “Could someone in fashionable sunglasses explain this?” Here’s a decent overview. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 tracks one alcoholic’s journey through an election year. The more mordant insight Hunter S. Thompson provides into how American politics work, the more you learn about why it doesn’t.
Granted, it’s been some time. We have new names, faces, and technology, all of which have changed exactly nothing. A more enterprising and less copyright-averse soul could insert modern names and call it fresh work. This book is an indispensable guide to skipping all the steps between denial and acceptance.
Some would prefer Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in this slot. I suggest simply doing the drugs yourself.
G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday
Extremes are back in vogue. For one golden moment, any political identification with a dash mark got you shadowbanned from serious society. That’s over. Now we have a delightful wave of monarchist-libertarians giving political scientists coronaries. With the complexity of current reactionaries, it’s easy to forget the elegant simplicity of the anarchist. The star of the original mass panic.
Here’s a reminder. The Man Who Was Thursday is many things. Dazzlingly written. A trailblazer for spy narratives. A satire I steal from regularly. But it’s also a passive-aggressive love letter to anarchists. People that stand against the structure itself. If there’s a part of you, however small that sympathizes with that, you’ll appreciate where the book lands.
It does take place in a violent world where nothing makes sense, so you might have trouble relating. But look past that, and you’ll find a new way to laugh.
Joe Wenderoth, Letters to Wendy’s
What’s your closest relationship with a corporation? You have at least one. All your food comes from three companies. Disney’s trademarked the human imagination. If you’re right of Mitt Romney, Sinclair wrote your brain’s first draft.
For Letters to Wendy’s narrator, love is red hair and a Frosty. At first glance the book is the deranged ranting of a lunatic. But that’s by artful design from Joe Wenderoth, who depicts the specific aphasia that leads to using a burger chain’s suggestion box. The weirdness has a control and voice that makes almost every page hilarious.
Even the titular brand can’t ruin my soft spot for this book. After convincing every salmonella shop in America to adopt a zany online persona, not acknowledging this book remains the Wendy’s Twitter account’s greatest sin. Yes, even after the rap album.
If you’ve typed “Weird Twitter” without shame, you should own this book. If you considered a “Cow Tools” tattoo, you should own this book. If you have a PFFR show on DVD, you should own this book. If you’re removed enough from general culture not to recognize Weird Twitter, cow tools, or PFFR, you should own this book.
Monica Drake, Clown Girl
Perhaps all this is too grand in scope. Maybe you want something about how your life, on the ground, feels like a bad joke. For a good time, I suggest Clown Girl, the story of a depressed clown in a codependency spiral. I don’t mean a figurative clown, or the idealized cartoon free from rent payments and chemical habits. This is the simple story of someone chasing art and love past the point of physical, mental, or financial health. For my money, black comedy gold.
Just be prepared to see rubber chickens differently.
Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth, The Space Merchants
(St. Martins Press-3PL)
Once, I thought saying “we’re a year out from ads on Mount Rushmore” was clever. Then my sister noted that Mount Rushmore is the ad. Since that day, ten or so years ago, I’ve lived in fear that the wrong sibling got into comedy.
Then again, I didn’t start out in comedy. There aren’t many book deals at undergraduate career fairs. I spent half a decade in public relations and advertising, where I learned that the sleazy caricatures of excess in media depicting advertising were complete bulltruth. There are aspiring Drapers in every agency. In fact, there are sociopaths that chose advertising because of Mad Men.
Of course, that’s just our generation. One of the earliest, and best, depictions of advertising hammering our minds into a slick paste is The Space Merchants. This 1950’s sci-fi novel depicts an insane world where advertising holds 85% of its current power. It’s likely the most amusing picture of war between mega-corporations, even after Amazon’s hostile takeover of Human Dignity LLC.
The next time an ad tempts you to use your laptop as a frisbee, consider The Space Merchants. It might be a campaign to sell more laptops.
Mateo Askaripour, Black Buck
Of course, 1950’s ad culture is a little retro for some. Feel free to cut it with some 2021 sales culture. Black Buck is Mateo Askaripour shaking Horatio Alger to death for poisoning our national brain. The original American deal sucks, and the black version is worse. It’s life on the lower decks of a sinking ship.
Think a business manual, with all the sociopathy dialed up five percent. Considering all the “hustle over the broken bodies of the fallen” rhetoric in the average self-help book, that’s an impressive number. Read it, and become the loudmouth laughing on the morning train. If anyone confronts you, it’s a sales opening.
Kelly Sue Deconnick, Robert Wilson IV, Taki Soma, Valentine De Landro, Bitch Planet
Some entries on this list are subtle. Bitch Planet, less so. This graphic novel riff on exploitation films depicts The Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, a women’s prison in a patriarchal future next door to The Handmaid’s Tale. If Intercourse or 13TH didn’t have enough space stations, hyperviolence, or life-or-death football games for your taste, you’ll get something out of Bitch Planet.
Joseph Heller, Catch-22
(Simon & Schuster)
Can’t tell if it’s the world or you that’s gone mad? Good news: it’s both. Joseph Heller became the Golden Buddha Statue of American satire with this portrait of troops resisting, obeying, ignoring, exploiting, and dying for an insane military machine. From a front-row view of hell itself, Heller recognized the war was very, very funny. We can only pray that World War III provides equal amusement.
Wait, is that my job? Too much pressure. I’ll write for the twelve people left after World War IV.
Edgar Hilsenrath, The Nazi and the Barber
(Owl of Minerva Press)
There’s an eternal debate on humor’s limits. Here’s a pitch-black satire by a Holocaust survivor about a concentration camp guard disguising himself as a victim. And it’s brilliant from the first page to the last. If Edgar Hilsenrath can distill black tar laughter out of the worst tragedy on this side of the Bronze Age collapse, we can survive a rib at the Comedy Cellar.
There are attempts at the grotesque, and then there’s The Nazi and the Barber. The English book’s a pain to find, but if the last few copies sell out it may provoke a reprint. Wink wink, nudge nudge.
Fran Ross, Oreo
At some point, the hazard suit-wearing aliens picking through the ashes of Disneyland will wonder why we couldn’t figure the whole race thing out. Oreo is a personal favorite novel about that very question, retracing the myth of Theseus through a half-black, half-jewish child’s search for her father amidst all the “Sam Schwartzes” in the phone book. It also boasts my favorite format-bending inserts this side of Chris Ware.
Fran Ross owned one of the nimblest comic voices I’ve seen in print, and I usually avoid throwing “nimble” around. It tends to be clunky, unlike the word clunky. Ross’s nimbleness makes clunky look like nimble.
Julie Schumacher, Dear Committee Members
I’ve got a lot of bombs, megacorporations, and what America calls race relations on this list. But looking around, I’ve noticed that some of you look fried. Your mental bandwidth struggles with all the new genres of fraud and terrorism, and you could use something digestible. I’ve got you.
One of the speediest and smartest satires I’ve read is Dear Committee Members, a novel composed of recommendation letters. Few devices paint the collision between fragile ideals and smile-shredding hyper-capitalist reality smo easily. It’s the only campus novel I can write about without nodding off, and captures feeling like the only sane person left alive. Which, as the gyre widens, will soon be reality for one lucky citizen. Here’s hoping the scenario’s more “one-eyed king” and less “burn the witch.”
For everyone else left in the asylum, Everything Abridged also features a slick satirical frame, and is available at—wait, right, forgot one:
Terry Pratchett, Night Watch
Terry Pratchett published more books than most of us bother to read, but choosing one was easy. Night Watch underlines the circular nature of revolutions (and delivers the pun more nimbly/clunkily) with relentless humor and imagination. It shadows Les Miserables to paint a picture of discontent, collapse, and futility. Paired with nobility, perseverance, and a thin trickle of justice. Yes, the last entry in my nihilist carnival is ultimately optimistic. And now, so is this list. You still have to vote, nerds. They can’t kill all of us.
Everything Abridged: Stories by Dennard Dayle is available via Overlook Press.
Some of us like to unwind with a great fiction book that transports us to places we’ve never been, into lives that differ from our own. Others love the shiver that goes up your spine when you crack open a creepy ghost story that makes you think twice before turning off the light to go to bed. And who among us can resist a juicy romance novel that reminds us that chivalry isn’t dead? Of course, the best nonfiction books can also open our eyes to lived experiences far beyond our own perspective. Needless to say: books can change lives, whether they’re intended to be inspirational or just come to us at the moment we need them most.
I’ve always been a total bookworm. I was that kid with a thriller hidden under my desk during Math class, who’d rather curl up with a novel at recess than run around after a ball. Because I was painfully shy, the characters I met within those pages kept me company on lonely afternoons. They showed me I wasn’t alone when bullies tried to shatter my spirit and gave me context for experiences my still-maturing mind didn’t understand. As I grew older, I found my people, gained self-confidence and didn’t need that literary solace as much anymore. But they never lost their magic. I’m still a firm believer in the power of the page. These wonderful life-changing books will make you one too.
Note: We’re just scratching the surface with these recommendations and will continue to update this list. Leave a comment below to let us know what books have changed your life.
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This memoir by a neurosurgeon grappling with his own terminal cancer diagnosis is both gutting and illuminating. In this day and age, its message of making the most of the time you’re given is more impactful than ever.
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One of Morrison’s most treasured novels, this one follows a formerly enslaved woman who escapes to Ohio. But the traumas she experienced, especially the loss of her baby, follow her in the form of both literal and figurative specters. It’s a stunning book that will stay with you forever.
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This searing memoir follows a woman confronting the grief of losing her mother, her marriage and her own sense of self by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on her own. It will remind all of us that we’re more resilient than we think.
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A friend of mine loves this quirky, honest look at growing up so much, he used to buy a copy before every flight and leave it in the seat back pocket for others to read. It’s a gift of a book, no matter where it finds you.
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Sometimes, it’s not big, sweeping changes that can really make a difference. It’s the little things that start from the ground up. The wisdom in this book that started with a viral graduation speech will inspire and energize you.
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In our frenetic, productivity-obsessed society, focusing your attention on what really matters feels like a revolutionary act. This book is part self-help, part manifesto and totally perfect for our current moment.
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If you’ve ever wondered what it is that makes humanity tick, Harari turns a wide historical lens on the question. It begins when consciousness does, and works its way toward the modern day on a sweeping journey that will broaden your mind.
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So many of us supposed adults spend our days just going through the motions. This inspiring book uses wisdom from kids, the elderly and everyone in between to help inject a little magic back into our lives. You’ll find yourself dog-earing every other page.
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Once again, the title of this one tells you just about everything you need to know. It’s a self-help book for people who hate self-help, and it’ll keep you laughing even if you realize you need to make a change.
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A riveting account of his time in Auschwitz and what keeps humanity going in spite of everything, this book embodies hope. When you need something to get you through tough times, give it a read.
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With elements of meditation woven throughout inspiring essays, this beautiful little book will keep you moving forward, no matter what’s holding you back.
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A meditative and often funny guide to writing, life and being human, this book will guide you through whatever you’re facing the best way the author knows how: one bird at a time.
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Anyone who’s ever white-knuckled their way through a hard period of time (and that’s probably all of us) will find solace in this book about how Didion made it through a truly horrible year.
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With elements of memoir, cultural criticism and plenty of wit, this essay collection explores Hong’s own reckoning with her identity as the daughter of Korean immigrants, as well as the role race plays in America as a whole.
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Tackle the big questions with a grin on your face as Bryson tries to figure out how everything came to be, well, what it is. Even if you’re not a science buff, this book will convert you.
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When Albom reconnects with his former college professor, Morrie, in the final months of his life, he’s given a rare chance to absorb some of the old man’s wisdom before it’s too late. With this book, so can we.
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Poet Ross Gay challenged himself to notice one thing that delighted him every day for a year and this insightful, uplifting book of essays is the result. Read them in order or pick it up and absorb one at random whenever you need a lift.
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A chilling look at an imaginary future in which the government is always watching, this sci-fi masterpiece will remind us of the dangers that can arise when we stop paying attention.
Frank documents her life in hiding during World War II in this enduring classic. When you read it, you’ll get an intimate look into all that she went through and find inspiration in her outlook despite impossible circumstances.
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Two Afghan women born in very different times are connected by circumstances beyond their control in this unforgettable novel about love, fate, friendship and the resilience of the human spirit.
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This genre-bending memoir tackles domestic abuse through a lens that will break open your understanding of not only the topic, but the form a story can take. It’s a feat, and one every reader needs on their bookshelf.
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If you find yourself clicking over to social media or mindlessly staring off into space in the middle of a task without even realizing you’re doing it, this book will help change the way you look at work.
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With “life-changing” right there in the title, this book clearly belongs on the list. But if you haven’t yet tried asking whether items in your home spark joy, discover the philosophy here.
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While technically for children, this gorgeous and philosophical little book has plenty of lessons for adults too. Read it on your own or gift it to a young reader to grow up alongside it, like so many have before.
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In this dystopia, firemen don’t put out fires – they set them. Houses that contain highly illegal printed books are set alight in this thought-provoking book about the power of the written word.
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The National Book Award-winning author contends with losing five men in her life in as many years in this heart-wrenching account of living through so much death.
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Whether you consider yourself a creative person or just want to start thinking (and living) outside the box, the advice here can help inject a little magic into your life.
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Perhaps one of the most widely read coming-of-age stories, the adventures of Holden Caulfield will feel familiar to many of us. If you haven’t read it since high school, give it another go to see how it lands now that you’ve got adult perspective.
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Even therapists need therapy, as Gottlieb shares in this book that explores her perspective as both a clinician and a patient. If you’re not already a therapy convert, you might be by the end.
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In a collection of essays, poems and images, Rankine takes a hard look at how we stay in the room together as citizens of a culture rife with racial tension. It’s a searing, challenging book that asks us all how we live alongside it.
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A powerful, heartbreaking book about prejudice, abuse, loneliness and the strength Angelou finds in herself and literature to survive it all, this memoir is a must-read.
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When my fourth-grade teacher handed me this book, my reading life changed forever. The story of four sisters helping each other through in their father’s absence is as timeless as they come.
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There’s plenty to look forward to this summer, including a new crop of books that will transport you far away, regardless of your vacation plans. The best books arriving over the next few months take place in coastal Maine, an isolated part of Alaska, East Africa—and even a post-apocalyptic world, among other riveting destinations.
Some of the season’s greatest hits are by already beloved authors, like Tom Perrotta, Taylor Jenkins Reid, David Yoon, and Mohsin Hamid. Others are satisfying introductions to debut writers such as Joseph Han and Rebecca Rukeyser.
Here, the 27 best books to read this summer.
City of Orange, David Yoon (May 24)
David Yoon’s haunting new novel opens with a man lying supine in a desert, clueless as to what happened to him and where he is. The world has ended. The apocalypse has happened. As pieces of his memory slowly return, it becomes evident that he had a wife and daughter who are now lost forever. As the man figures out how to survive in this new barren land, he transitions from isolation to fear to, finally, acceptance. City of Orange is Yoon’s second book for adults, following Version Zero; he’s also written the young-adult novels Frankly in Love and Super Fake Love Song.
Either/Or, Elif Batuman (May 24)
In Elif Batuman’s second novel, a piquant sequel to her 2017 Pulitzer Prize-nominated debut novel The Idiot, protagonist Selin Karadag, a relentlessly curious Harvard student, ponders the value of love and lust as she mines her life for her burgeoning, semi-autobiographical creative writing. Drawing its title from Kierkegaard’s seminal work, with which Selin is obsessed, the narrative is a hyper-cerebral romp that is as brainy as it is charming.
You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty, Akwaeke Emezi (May 24)
Akwaeke Emezi delivers a fresh summer romance with their latest novel, You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty. After the devastating loss of her partner, artist Feyi Adekola has nearly rebuilt her life, tentatively easing back into the dating scene. While Feyi begins dating a man who checks off every box, an unexpected spark with someone who’s off-limits makes her reconsider everything she thought she knew about love.
Happy-Go-Lucky, David Sedaris (May 31)
David Sedaris’ signature wit has always thrived on the macabre, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that his latest collection of essays, Happy-Go-Lucky, written in the wake of the pandemic panic and the social and political unrest of 2020, is some of his darkest—and most astute—writing yet. From the death of his 98-year-old father to mask mandate drama, no topic is out of bounds for Sedaris’ acerbic humor and sharp observations.
Yerba Buena, Nina LaCour (May 31)
Nina LaCour is well-known for her YA books, including Watch Over Me and We Are Okay. In Yerba Buena, her first adult novel, she introduces two women—Sara and Emilie—who cross paths while trying to figure out who they really are. Both are flawed, with family trauma to sort through, and they’re instantly drawn to each other. Their pasts, however, might interfere with their newfound love in this slow-burn, heartfelt story.
Counterfeit, Kirstin Chen (June 7)
If you appreciate a good caper, you’ll want to pick up Kirstin Chen’s novel about two Asian American women who turn a counterfeit handbag scheme into a big business. The book is written as a confession, which helps readers get to know protagonists Ava and Winnie, and how their lives detoured toward crime. Counterfeit is fast-paced and fun, with smart commentary on the cultural differences between Asia and America.
Cult Classic, Sloane Crosley (June 7)
Magical realism meets romance in downtown New York in Sloane Crosley’s witty second novel, Cult Classic. Protagonist Lola is forced to confront her romantic past after she runs into a string of ex-boyfriends, all within the same five-mile radius in Manhattan’s Chinatown. But these occurrences are hardly coincidental, leading Lola on a mysterious and mystical chase to uncover what exactly is happening to her.
Nuclear Family, Joseph Han (June 7)
Migration, family secrets, and memory collide in Joseph Han’s gorgeous debut novel, Nuclear Family. For the Chos, a Korean American couple living in Hawaii, life has finally settled into comfort—that is, until their son, Jacob, who’s teaching English in Seoul, goes viral for attempting to cross the Demilitarized Zone into North Korea. Little does his family know that Jacob has been possessed by the ghost of his late grandfather, who still has unfinished business on earth.
The Seaplane on Final Approach, Rebecca Rukeyser (June 7)
Mira heads to remote Alaska to spend the summer working at a floundering wilderness lodge. While there, she obsesses over her step-cousin and watches as the lodge owners’ dysfunctional marriage implodes. The Seaplane on Final Approach is a snappy character study and a meditation on sleaziness.
Tracy Flick Can’t Win, Tom Perrotta (June 7)
Twenty-four years after he published Election, Tom Perrotta revisits his cult classic antiheroine Tracy Flick in Tracy Flick Can’t Win. Picking up decades after Election left off, the ever-ambitious Tracy returns to navigating the turbulent waters of high school politics—but this time, on the other side of the student-faculty divide. As an assistant principal at a suburban New Jersey high school, Tracy is balancing a new relationship, single motherhood, and the demands of her job when an unexpected career opportunity pops up and promises to change life as she knows it.
Horse, Geraldine Brooks (June 14)
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks turns her attention to the true story of a 19th-century racehorse named Lexington, one of the greatest in history. The story jumps between centuries: in Kentucky in 1850, an enslaved man bonds with a foal he vows to ride to victory. In New York City in 1954, a gallery owner becomes fixated on a mysterious oil painting of a horse. And finally, in Washington, D.C., in 2019, an art historian and a scientist make discoveries that lead back to Lexington. Horse isn’t just an animal story—it’s a moving narrative about race and art.
Flying Solo, Linda Holmes (June 14)
When Laurie returns home to Maine to clear out her beloved great aunt’s estate, she’s only recently removed from calling off her wedding—and is coming to terms with the idea that a conventional relationship might not be in the cards. When she finds a mysterious wooden duck buried in her aunt’s belongings, she embarks on a wild goose chase to figure out its origins, getting reacquainted with her first love along the way. The novel—which follows Holmes’ 2019 summer hit Evvie Drake Starts Over—is a refreshing reminder that “happily ever after” doesn’t have to look one specific way.
Learning to Talk, Hilary Mantel (June 21)
Hilary Mantel is a literary legend: she’s won the Booker Prize twice, and garnered wide acclaim for her Wolf Hall trilogy, which concluded in 2020 and was adapted for television. In Learning to Talk, Mantel dispenses a series of semi-autobiographical short stories. The collection—a re-release from 2003—features a new preface. Many of the stories center on childhood, and Mantel brings England alive, writing with detail and intellect.
Lapvona, Ottessa Moshfegh (June 21)
Ottessa Moshfegh transports readers to a medieval fiefdom in her new novel, which follows 2020’s Death in Her Hands. The book is about Little Marek, who was abused by his father, the village’s shepherd, and never knew his mother. He ends up in a power struggle that exposes the depravity of human nature and juxtaposes the difference between religion and manipulation. Lapvona is violent and provocative, and a departure from Moshfegh’s previous work.
Thrust, Lidia Yuknavitch (June 28)
The protagonist in Lidia Yuknavitch’s new novel is Laisv, who’s a “carrier”—which means certain objects can help her travel through time to connect with interesting people from eras past. Laisv’s ultimate goal is to save these people, including a dictator’s daughter and an accused murderer. As in her previous work, including The Book of Joan and Dora: A Headcase, Yuknavitch’s writing is moving and incisive.
Life Ceremony: Stories, Sayaka Murata (July 5)
Sayaka Murata—a Japanese writer whose previous novels include Convenience Store Woman—delivers her first collection of short stories translated into English. Life Ceremony consists of 12 engrossing entries that probe intimacy and individuality while turning norms upside down. In one, for example, a curtain in a young girl’s room spirals into jealousy as she watches—and tries to stop—her owner’s first kiss. The stories are strange and bold.
Crying in the Bathroom, Erika L. Sánchez (July 12)
Poet and young-adult novelist Erika L. Sánchez turns to the struggles and triumphs she’s experienced over the years for material for her latest book, the memoir Crying in the Bathroom. Touching on a wide range of topics that run the gamut from the deeply personal, like Sánchez’s bouts of depression, to the political, like immigration policy, each essay feels like a conversation with a good friend, thanks to Sánchez’s warm and vulnerable writing.
The Man Who Could Move Clouds, Ingrid Rojas Contreras (July 12)
Magic is not just a multi-generational occurrence in Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ family—it’s their legacy, something she details with both wonder and care in her memoir The Man Who Could Move Clouds. Growing up in Colombia, Rojas Contreras witnessed her mother telling fortunes and her grandfather, a renowned curandero (or healer), predicting the future, healing the sick, and moving clouds. Rojas Contreras was unsure of her place in this world until a head injury caused her to have amnesia—an experience that her family believes may be key to her accessing her own magic.
Upgrade, Blake Crouch (July 12)
Blake Crouch’s inventive new novel, equal parts thriller and sci-fi, examines how far our humanity can stretch. It’s about Logan, a scientist whose genome has been hacked—which alters him in unsettling ways. To stop these so-called upgrades from rolling out to the rest of the world, Logan has to spring into action. Readers who enjoyed Crouch’s previous novels, such as Dark Matter and Recursion, will find Upgrade just as thrilling. Steven Spielberg’s production company Amblin Partners has snapped up the film rights, and Crouch is attached to the project as an executive producer.
Dirtbag, Massachusetts: A Confessional, Isaac Fitzgerald (July 19)
Isaac Fitzgerald’s life has zigged and zagged: He used to work at a biker bar, and he’s the author of the children’s book How to Be a Pirate. He’s been an altar boy and a “fat kid.” He’s also had stints as a firefighter and smuggler. In his memoir Dirtbag, Massachusetts, Fitzgerald reflects on his origins—and coming to terms with self-consciousness, anger, and strained family relationships. His writing is gritty yet vulnerable.
The Last White Man, Mohsin Hamid (Aug. 2)
What is the value of whiteness, if it ceases to exist as we know it? That’s the question at the heart of Mohsin Hamid’s The Last White Man, where Anders, a white man, wakes up one morning to find that his skin has turned dark. As other similar cases occur throughout the land, Hamid poses larger questions about how we really see each other and ourselves.
Mika in Real Life, Emiko Jean (Aug. 2)
In Emiko Jean’s Mika in Real Life, Mika Suzuki sees a chance to not only reinvent herself, but also reimagine what her life could look like outside of her dreary reality. At 35, Mika’s situation is bleak: her love life is in ruins, her family is perpetually disappointed in her, and her living arrangement is less than ideal. But after she gets a phone call from the daughter she gave up for adoption, a tiny white lie turns into an opportunity for a second act—as long as her secret doesn’t come to light.
Autoportrait, Jesse Ball (Aug. 9)
In his first memoir, Jesse Ball—whose previous work includes March Book and The Divers’ Game—helps readers understand who he is and what shaped him. He reveals personal tidbits, like that one of his shoulders stands higher than the other, and that his left hand is quicker but weaker than his right. He also reflects on love and loss. Autoportrait was inspired by the memoir French writer Édouard Levé wrote shortly before dying in 2007.
The Women Could Fly, Megan Giddings (Aug. 9)
In Megan Giddings’ dystopian novel, The Women Could Fly, the mystical collides with the familiar when it comes to women’s autonomy. Josephine Thomas lives in a world where women are mandated to be married by 30 or forced to enroll in a registry that monitors them; with her 30th birthday around the corner, Jo finds hope for her freedom in the extraordinary last request of her long-lost mother, rumored to be a witch, who mysteriously disappeared when Jo was a child.
Afterlives, Abdulrazak Gurnah (Aug. 23)
Germany’s brutal colonization of East Africa (what is known as Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda today) provides the backdrop to Abdulrazak Gurnah’s arresting novel, Afterlives. Centering on the intersecting lives of Ilyas, Afiya, and Hamza, three young people who return home after being separated by war and slavery, the novel explores what is gained and what is lost in the name of survival. Gurnah, who won the 2021 Nobel Prize for his “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism,” employs sensitivity and tenderness in each storyline.
Babel, Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution, R.F. Kuang (Aug. 23)
The Poppy War author R. F. Kuang tackles dark academia and imperialism with her latest novel, Babel, Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution. Centering on a plucky unnamed protagonist—a student at Babel, Oxford’s Royal Institute of Translation—and his rag-tag cohort, the book uses magic and agathokakological lessons to make a case for a post-colonial future.
Carrie Soto Is Back, Taylor Jenkins Reid (Aug. 30)
Taylor Jenkins Reid has collected a devoted following for her made-for-summer books like Malibu Rising and Daisy Jones & The Six. She returns with a novel about tennis star Carrie Soto, who won 20 Grand Slam titles with her father, Javier, as her coach. Six years into retirement, Carrie’s record is shattered by a player named Nicki—so she leaps back onto the court for one final season to reclaim what’s hers. Don’t worry if you’re not big on sports stories; this is, ultimately, a heart-filled novel about an iconic and persevering father and daughter.
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Why we need the ABC, a brooding wartime thriller and six other books to read – Sydney Morning Herald
Book critics Cameron Woodhead and Fiona Capp cast their eyes over new fiction and non-fiction releases. Here are their reviews.
Fiction pick of the week
J.P. Powell, Brio Books, $29.99
The second in a series of historical thrillers set in wartime Brisbane, Deception Bay follows The Brisbane Line and reunites the characters introduced in it. In this one, American investigator Joe Washington teams up with Australian Rose McAlister, who has returned to working for a covert group of code breakers (at a kind of Antipodean Bletchley Park) during WWII.
The Brisbane River is almost a character in this brooding period crime novel: it disgorges a human arm with a strange tattoo near a submarine base; it was the last look for a cryptographer who appears to have jumped from a bridge in a presumed suicide. Yet a trail of clues leads Washington and McAlister into the murky underside of Brisbane itself, with a criminal demimonde and a corrupt cop lying in wait for them.
An atmospheric thriller that will appeal to fans of something like The Bletchley Circle as well as more hard-boiled noir.
George Haddad, UQP, $29.99
George Haddad’s Losing Face unites three generations of a Lebanese-Australian family, weaving together a legacy of trauma, a clear-eyed examination of sexual crime and consent, and a stark coming-of-age story.
Joey is a young man numbed by his suburban existence. He drifts through life – working in the produce section at Woolies, experimenting with drugs with his mates – and his lack of assertiveness lands him in trouble with the law. He’s among a group of men arrested for a violent sexual crime in a public park and, as the events of that night are dissected in a courtroom, the narrative alternates with that of Joey’s family, especially his grandmother Elaine, whose own story contains shades of a double life.
Haddad’s sharp and sensitively drawn realism is embedded in an astute psychogeography, instantly recognisable, of a rapidly gentrifying Western Sydney.
Jonathan Bazzi, Scribe, $29.99
This layered, award-winning novel from Jonathan Bazzi interlaces reflections on growing up queer in working-class Italy with a tense, visceral portrayal of living with HIV.
Jonathan’s childhood on the impoverished outskirts of Milan was difficult – a shy and stuttering boy who enjoys dressing as Wonder Woman was never going to fit in to an intensely homophobic neighbourhood, and the novel offers a vivid impression of the way that shaped events and emotions in Jonathan’s later life. Alternating with the flashbacks are chapters that follow Jonathan in the city as an adult. Nesting with his boyfriend and two dogs at 31, a low-level fever takes hold, and Jonathan embarks on a medical odyssey, and a dark night of the soul, after receiving an HIV diagnosis.
It’s an intensely rendered, unflinching, and strikingly written addition to queer literature that resists false uplift or sentimental gloss, tackles the issue of class head on, and doesn’t shy away from mental or emotional turmoil.
Family of Liars
E. Lockhart, Allen & Unwin, $24.99
A prequel to the TikTok sensation We Were Liars, E. Lockhart’s latest YA novel goes back a generation in the Sinclair family to excavate older layers of a wealthy dynasty’s dysfunction. I must confess to not recalling the original – perhaps mirroring the amnesia of its protagonist – but the prequel delves into Sinclair family lore in a way diehard ‘BookTokers’ will probably enjoy.
There’s much melodrama and torment, more rich old people blighting the lives of the young, and more shocking revelation that might be fun to film yourself reacting to, if you’re into that sort of thing. And if you’re into that sort of thing (to poach from Dorothy Parker), then that is the sort of thing you’re into. Taste doesn’t come into it. The book reads like an immersive teen version of a particularly trashy season from a long-running American soap.
Non-fiction pick of the week
The Shortest History of India
John Zubrzycki, Black Inc, $24.99
Jawaharlal Nehru once described India as “a myth and an idea, a dream and a vision, and yet very real and present and pervasive.”
Distilling these contradictions into 250 pages, John Zubrzycki has fashioned an accessible and absorbing portal to the subcontinent’s 5000-year-old history, from the Harappan civilisation – possibly the world’s first secular state – through to Narendra Modi’s government whose authoritarian tendencies and Hindu nationalism are threatening the state’s commitment to secularism.
In between, Zubrzycki charts how the subcontinent’s geography has shaped the country’s evolution through waves of trade, migration and invasion to create the forces that produced the cultural riches of the Vedas, religious revolutionaries such as the Buddha whose teachings challenged the caste system, the glittering opulence of the Mughal empires and the barbarity of the East India Company.
Who Needs the ABC?
Matthew Ricketson & Patrick Mullins, Scribe, $29.99
In this measured, rigorous analysis, Ricketson and Mullins show why we can’t take public broadcasting for granted and why politicians need to recognise that it’s our ABC, not an institution beholden to them.
For all the criticism of “Aunty” from the government and News Corp, review after review has failed to uphold accusations of systemic bias. The hypocrisy of these attacks, say the authors, is breathtaking because the ABC is held to “a higher standard than the rest of the news media.” For instance, a producer with 20 years in commercial TV who had never been accused of bias found herself panned as a “Labor bitch” three days after joining The 7.30 Report.
How much longer can the ABC continue to enrich our lives as much as it does when faced with corrosive ideological attacks and funding cuts? The authors make a compelling case that a thriving, well-funded ABC is in all our interests.
An Uncommon Hangman
Rachel Franks, NewSouth, $34.99
There was no escaping the ignominy of being a hangman in colonial Australia, especially when one’s career was salaciously documented by the press. This was the fate of Robert ‘Nosey Bob’ Howard, a once-respectable cab driver who was forced to turn his hand to execution to support his young family after his face was disfigured, most probably in an accident with a horse.
Rachel Franks pieces together the life story of Howard, dubbed the ‘noseless one’ by The Truth, through the stories of the 61 men and one woman whom he hanged in New South Wales in the last three decades of the nineteenth century.
This grim litany of crime and punishment serves as a lens through which Franks examines attitudes to execution as spectacle and deterrent, the fight for the abolition of the death penalty and Howard’s peculiar brand of dignity that belied the job he performed.
How To Prevent the Next Pandemic
Bill Gates, Allen Lane, $39.99
If weariness with COVID among the general public is any indicator, there would not seem to be much appetite for a book like this right now. And yet, it’s clearly a subject we do need to think about. But is Bill Gates the person to tell us what ought to be done?
As much as this book might feel like a PR exercise for the Gates Foundation, his track record of funding research and practical interventions to tackle infectious disease in low-income countries has afforded him potentially useful insights. Not surprisingly, technology is key to his plan, particularly innovations to develop, manufacture and distribute vaccines. His meta vision involves a global response with mobilisation teams for detecting and responding to outbreaks so that they don’t become pandemics.
For all his constructive proposals, the whiff of paternalism towards the developing countries still hangs over this work.
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- We gathered the top-rated and best-selling fiction books of 2022 so far.
- These picks include new historical fiction, romance, fantasy, and sci-fi books.
- For more great books, check out the best books of 2022 so far, according to Goodreads.
Every year brings new and amazing books to shelves everywhere, but it can be overwhelming to sort through hundreds of titles to find a book that truly stands out from the rest. Fortunately, with reviews from readers, bookshops, and editors, the most memorable new titles still rise to the top.
To create this list of recommendations, we pulled readers’ favorite new fiction books from a variety of sources including top-ranking titles on Goodreads, bestseller lists on Audible and Libro.fm, and books readers can’t stop talking about on social media. From fantasy sequels to heart-pounding historical fiction, here is some of the best new fiction of 2022 so far.
The best fiction books of 2022 so far:
“Black Cake” by Charmaine Wilkerson
Insightful, memorable, and masterfully written, “Black Cake” is a transportive and expansive novel that begins as Byron and Benny inherit a traditional Caribbean black cake and a voice recording in the wake of their mother’s passing. In this story of heritage, memories, and history, the siblings must unravel their mother’s story to create a new and deeper understanding of her, their family, and themselves.
“All My Rage” by Sabaa Tahir
Salahudin and Noor were more than best friends until a terrible fight destroyed their bond, leaving each of them to face their familial and personal challenges alone. As Sal tries to hold his family and their business together after his mother’s passing and Noor attempts to avoid her uncle’s wrath as she applies to college against his wishes, the two must decide the value of their friendship and what they need to move forward.
“Book Lovers” by Emily Henry
Emily Henry’s latest beach-read romance follows Nora Stephens, an NYC literary agent whose own love life is far from perfect. When her sister, Libby, suggests a trip for just the two of them to a storybook-like town in North Carolina, Nora agrees in the hopes of becoming the heroine of her own story but almost immediately runs into Charlie Lastra, a brooding book editor — and her greatest rival.
“Violeta” by Isabel Allende
“Violeta” is an epic new historical fiction novel about Violeta del Valle, born in 1920 in South America to a family of sons. Told in the form of a letter, Violeta’s life spans a century of extraordinary events, from personal heartbreak and great triumphs to the fight for women’s rights and two terrible pandemics.
“True Biz” by Sara Nović
At the River Valley School for the Deaf, Charlie is a new transfer student, Austin is the school’s “golden boy,” and February is their headmistress, fighting to keep the school open while juggling personal challenges of her own. “True Biz” follows the students and the school as they are rocked by personal, political, and familial unrest over a tumultuous year that will change their lives forever.
“House of Sky and Breath” by Sarah J. Maas
“House of Sky and Breath” is the highly anticipated sequel to Sarah J. Maas’ “House of Earth and Blood,” both of which are loved by readers for the spellbinding magic systems, their deep care for the characters, and the exhilarating, suspenseful plot that keeps them invested for 800 pages. In this sequel, Bryce and Hunt have saved Cresent City and are looking for a moment of peace but as the rebels slowly chip away at the Asteri’s power, the two know they cannot stay silent while others are oppressed.
“Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus
In this story set in 1960s California, Elizabeth Zott is a chemist whose male coworkers see her as little more than a woman in the way. When her career takes a sharp turn and she finds herself the star of a beloved American cooking show, people still aren’t happy, as she not only takes a unique approach to cooking, but in many ways is teaching women to defy the status quo in this funny and feminist historical fiction read.
“How High We Go in the Dark” by Sequoia Nagamatsu
As humanity is challenged with rebuilding after a climate plague reshapes life on Earth, this science fiction novel bends to follow linked narratives of those affected in a vast variety of ways, from a scientist searching for a cure to a painter and her granddaughter looking for a new home planet. Loved for its intricate and imitate connections between characters, themes, and stories, “How High We Go in the Dark” is a tale of compassion, resiliency, and hope.
“Daughter of the Moon Goddess” by Sue Lynn Tan
Inspired by the legend of the Chinese moon goddess, Chang’e, “Daughter of the Moon Goddess” is about Xingyin, who grew up on the moon, unaware that she is being hidden from the Celestial Emperor until her magic reveals her existence and she’s forced to flee her home and leave her mother behind. To save her mother, Xingyin disguises her identity, learns mastery and magic alongside the emperor’s son, and sets off on a dangerous quest of magic, honor, and betrayal.
“Young Mungo” by Douglas Stuart
Born into different religions, Mungo and James should be sworn enemies yet find safety in each other as their close friendship blooms into love. When Mungo is sent on a fishing trip with two of his mother’s friends from AA, darker intentions arise in this story of masculinity, queerness, division, and violence.
“This Time Tomorrow” by Emma Straub
When Alice wakes up on the morning of her 40th birthday, she seems to have been transported back in time to 1996 to relive her 16th birthday. Though her father is ailing in the present day, she’s reunited with her younger, full-of-life dad and, armed with decades of experience, relives the day with a new perspective, bringing new meaning to memories and leaving Alice wondering if she could — or should — change anything about that day.
“Reminders of Him” by Colleen Hoover
“Reminders of Him” is a Colleen Hoover story of redemption as Kenna Rowan returns to her town after a five-year prison sentence, hoping to reunite with her young daughter, though all those who knew her determinedly shut her out. Turning to the local bar owner, Ledger Ward, Kenna finds a remaining link to her daughter, but when the two form a deeper connection, romance brings greater risk and Kenna must find a way to fix the past in order to solidify a better future.
“Memphis” by Tara M. Stringfellow
During the summer of 1995, 10-year-old Joan moves with her mother and younger sister into their mother’s family home in Memphis, fleeing their father’s violence, though the home is marked by a history of violence all its own. In her grief, Joan begins to create portraits of the women in North Memphis and unravels a past, present, and future of matrilineal tradition, healing, and curses from the stories of those she encounters.
“Sea of Tranquility” by Emily St. John Mandel
Part time travel epic and part pandemic literature, “Sea of Tranquility” is a science fiction novel that spans centuries from an airship terminal in the Canadian wilderness in 1912 to a moon colony 300 years in the future to tell a story of humanity and the many ways we are impacted by a pandemic world. Unique, profound, and memorable, this new novel combines speculative and literary elements to take readers on a fast-paced journey.
“Four Treasures of the Sky” by Jenny Tinghui Zhang
Though Daiyu never wanted to be like the tragic heroine for which she was named, everything changes when she’s kidnapped and smuggled from China to America. “Four Treasures of the Sky” is a story of self-discovery, Chinese history and folklore, and the ways in which Daiyu had to continuously change herself to survive.
“The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea” by Axie Oh
In Mina’s homeland, the people believe the Sea God curses their land with terrible storms and war so they sacrifice a beautiful maiden in the hopes their choice will one day be his “true bride” and end their suffering. When Shim Cheong, Mina’s brother’s beloved, is chosen as the sacrifice, Mina throws herself into the water in her place and is swept away to the Spirit Realm. There, she sets out to wake the Sea God and end her home’s suffering once and for all.
“Brown Girls” by Daphne Palasi Andreades
In Queens, New York, young girls and women of color are growing up in the center of vibrant culture, learning to balance their immigrant heritage with the American world around them. “Brown Girls” reads like a literary poem dedicated to the young women who experience this unique crossroads as they make their own place in the world, a story that continues to resonate with many readers.
“Peach Blossom Spring” by Melissa Fu
Lily desperately wants to understand her family’s heritage, but her father refuses to speak about his childhood and his story of fleeing his family home with his mother in 1938 as the Japanese army encroached on their land. “Peach Blossom Spring” is a powerful story of war, migration, and heritage that jumps across continents and centuries to convey the importance of telling our stories.
“Don’t Cry for Me” by Daniel Black
As Jacob lays on his deathbed, he knows there are many truths he must share with his son, Isaac, though the two have not spoken in many years. Through letters, Jacob reveals ancestral stories, long-buried secrets, and hopeful explanations for his reaction to Isaac’s being gay. “Don’t Cry for Me” is an emotional historical fiction novel about reckoning, reconciliation, and healing.
“Take My Hand” by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
“Take My Hand” is a new historical fiction novel inspired by true events that begin with Civil Townsend in 1973 as she takes a job fresh out of nursing school at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic in Alabama. In her first week, she encounters 11- and 13-year-old sisters whose situation raises alarms for Civil. Decades later, Civil is ready to retire when history returns in this story of bravery, institutional racism and classism, and the ways Black communities have been targeted and attacked throughout history.
“The Diamond Eye” by Kate Quinn
Though Mila Pavlichenko’s life in 1937 Ukraine revolves around her library job and her son, everything changes when Hilter invades and she’s sent into war with a rifle, quickly becoming one of the deadliest snipers known to the Nazi regime. When her 300th kill makes national news, she’s pulled from the war for a goodwill tour in America until an old enemy and new foe pull Mila into a battle deadlier than the war.
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May is AAPI Heritage Month, a monthlong celebration of the cultures, histories, contributions, and accomplishments of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Originally begun in 1978 as a weeklong event, the entire month of May was officially designated AAPI Heritage Month in the early 1990s. Now, AAPI communities across the country honor the month with celebrations and educational events. It’s also a fantastic time to dive into some of the many, many, many wonderful books out there by AAPI authors!
Like with Black History Month, or Pride Month, or any of the other months that celebrate particular cultures and communities, AAPI Heritage Month shouldn’t be the one month of the year during which we talk about, read, and celebrate books by AAPI authors. That’s a year-round event; it never stops. But there’s nothing wrong with doing a little extra reading and talking and celebrating during May. There are far too many books by AAPI authors to read during one month anyway, so why not start with a few of these fantastic queer books, and you can roll right into Pride Month with a few more?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we are living in the Golden Age of queer lit. I limited myself mostly to queer books by AAPI authors published in the first half of 2022, and even so, it was tough to narrow down this list. I also focused exclusively on American authors, but it broke my heart a little not to include Violets by Korean author Kyung-Sook Shin, translated by Anton Hur, and People Change by Asian Canadian author Vivek Shraya. I’m just saying: there are so many incredible queer books by Asian authors, AAPI authors, and authors from the Asian diaspora all over the world. This list is just the beginning.
Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho
I learned after reading it that technically this is a story collection, but to me it read like a novel. It’s a series of linked stories that follows two Taiwanese American friends as they grow up and come into themselves. Ho beautifully captures all the messy bumps of a lifelong friendship — Fiona and Jane weave in and out of each other’s lives in a way that feels very true to how friendships, especially long distance ones, actually unfold.
Tell Me How to Be by Neel Patel
This novel came out at the very end of 2021 — which means it basically came out in 2022. If you missed it, you’re going to want to fix that pronto. It’s a beautiful, layered family saga about music, regret, brotherhood, redemption, addiction, and so much more. It’s narrated in dual POVs by Renu and Akash, a mother and son whose lives are both defined by relationships from their pasts. Akash is a gay twenty-something who is drinking too much and struggling with his career. When he returns home a year after his father’s death to help his mother sell the family house, a lot of old secrets come out.
Little Rabbit by Alyssa Songsiridej
There are a lot of books about women in relationships with older men, and I tend to avoid most of them. This is a differently beast entirely. The unnamed narrator is a queer, biracial 30-year-old writer who gets involved with a wealthy and well-established choreographer. It’s a story about identity, obsession, bad choices, desire, and queer community — and Songsiridej gives all of these intense themes the thoughtful, nuanced treatment they deserve.
The Verifiers by Jane Pek
Claudia Lin is a lifelong mystery reader, so when a detective agency that specializes in online dating recruits her, she takes the job. Veracity is a firm that investigates potential matches on dating apps to verify if they are, indeed, who they say they are. But Jane’s life takes a turn when her first client goes missing. It’s not the only complication she’s facing — she’s also keeping the fact that she’s a lesbian a secret from her family. This is a fun mystery that will appeal to fans of family drama, as the characters and their relationships take center stage.
Ask the Brindled by No‘u Revilla (August 9)
In her debut collection, which won the 2021 National Poetry series, Native Hawaiian poet, No’u Revilla, explores bodies, language, the legacies of colonialism, the natural world, and grief. Her poems blend the history of the Hawaiian Kingdom, stories from ʻŌiwi culture, and experiences of queerness and queer love. It’s a beautiful book that honors the unique stories of queer and Native Hawaiian women in bright, unflinching, unforgettable language.
Ma and Me by Putsata Reang
Putsata Reang escaped Cambodia with her family when she was 11 months old. In this poignant memoir, she recounts her childhood as the daughter of refugees, her complicated relationship with her mother, and her struggles to reconcile her desire to be a good daughter and make her mother proud with her desire to live her life openly as a queer woman.
The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake
Fans of dark academia and books about mysterious societies, get exited: this brilliant fantasy has just been reissued! The story follows several characters who have all been recruited to join a secret society of magicians — if they can survive the year of trials designed to test their knowledge and skill, that is.
All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews (August 2)
I read this book a few weeks ago and have not been able to shut up about it: so get your pre-orders on! Sneha, an Indian American immigrant, graduates college into a devastating recession. She begins a seemingly perfect job in Milwaukee, where she makes new friends, begins a messy romance, and muddles through her 20s as best she can. Everything about this novel is perfect. It’s about friendship and work, two things which so rarely get treated with such nuance and care in fiction. Sneha’s narrative voice is both snarky and warm. Every scene comes alive. If you’re looking for your next great queer Millennial read, this is it.
Flip the Script by Lyla Lee (May 31)
Fans of K-dramas, rejoice! And mark your calendars for the end of May, because you’re going to want to read this joyful YA novel full of all the best romantic tropes. Hana has finally landed a lead role in a new drama, and she’s determined to get it right. The one thing she’s not counting on is a real-life love interest — especially in the form of the girl who plays her on-screen rival. Things get pretty messy, both on screen and off.
Siren Queen by Nghi Vo
I loved The Chosen and the Beautiful, Vo’s magical queer retelling of The Great Gatsby, so I can’t wait to get my hands on her latest novel, which is set in 1930s Hollywood. But this version of Hollywood is controlled by the fae, and monsters don’t just live on the screen. Luli Wei is desperate to make a name for herself in a world that’s actively hostile toward Chinese American women — and she’s willing to do just about anything to achieve her dreams.
Nuclear Family by Joseph Han (June 7)
This novel isn’t out for a few weeks, but it’s such a beautiful, original book — I had to include it. When Jacob is arrested trying to get across the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, it throws his family back in Hawai’i into turmoil. His parents are trying to keep their plate lunch restaurant alive, while his sister starts spending most of her time getting high. None of them realize that Jacob has been possessed by the ghost of his grandfather, who is desperately trying to find the family he lost in the war. The story unfolds in a chorus of voices, both dead and alive. It’s a gorgeous meditation on loss and memory, a painful and haunting novel about the legacies of war and the violence of separation.
All the Flowers Kneeling by Paul Tran
In these sparkling, melodic, devastating poems, Paul Tran explores generational trauma, queerness, art, language, and the slow and complicated journey of healing from sexual violence. This is one of those books where I eventually stopped marking passages because I wanted to mark every one. The poems are just that good.
Messy Roots by Laura Gao
This is a beautiful graphic novel about home, culture, identity, language, and the messy process of coming into self. Laura Gao was born in Wuhan, China, and immigrated to the U.S. to join her parents at the age of four. She writes about her childhood in Texas, her college years, and what it’s like being a Wuhanese American during the pandemic. She uses distinct art styles to represent the various places that have shaped her life — Wuhan, Texas, the Bay Area — and it gives the book a wonderful sense of motion and vibrancy.
Looking for more fantastic queer books by AAPI and Asian authors? Check out these queer contemporary books by Asian writers, these queer Asian YA books, and these LGBTQ+ South Asian books! And if you’re ready for your May TBR to absolutely explode, check out this amazing list of Asian American books to read this year, these 2022 short story collections by Asian authors, and these must-read South Asian books out in 2022!